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Full text of "NightRider"

95

banker. Edmund Tolliver hated him for his success, just as
he hated the memory of his own father for his failure. But
the hatred was secret, and Edmund Tolliver flattered him,
took what business the old man threw his way, and waited for
him to die. He died suddenly, of apoplexy, some years before
Tolliver had dared to hope for the event.

Joan Palmer was a frail and sickly woman several years
older than her husband. She was not pretty, for chronic ill
health had marked her, and a dull, mottled complexion
obscured the precise chiselling of her features, but at mo-
ments of happiness and excitement she could exhibit a
delicate and transparent beauty that hovered insubstantially
and then faded, as it were, under the steadiness of the on-
looker's profaning gaze. When Edmund Tolliver asked her
to marry him, she was thus transfigured; and at that moment,
seeing that unexpected beauty, he forgot what calculations
had inspired his suit, and was so deeply moved, as by a reve-
lation, that his sight swam with tears. He was overcome
with humility and purifying joy at this gift which a gracious
fate had so unexpectedly extended to him. He told Joan
Palmer, and told himself, believingly, that no service for her
would ever be too great, no care too tender, and that he
would do everything in the world to make her happy. Say-
ing nothing, she drew his head down to her bosom and held
it there, with her small fingers pressed into the strong, crisp,
thick hair of his head, while she stared unseeingly at the pro-
fusion of gilt and brocade and white marble and plush over
which the crystal chandelier of her father's parlour spilled
its gleams.

The promises which Edmund Tolliver made that night to
her and to himself were truly meant. But her strength was
not like his. She was never well. For days at a time she
would lie in a darkened room, motionless, staring at the
ceiling, or pressing her fingers to her eyes and brow. And
as time passed, that gesture became habitual, even when the
pain was not present, a small gesture of desperation in the
face of all the nameless forces of sorrow and destruction that